A good steward of national patrimony

In 1991, the Philippine Senate decided not to renew the US-Philippines Military Bases Agreement that ended American military presence in the country that began nearly a century ago. This and the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo on June 15, 1991 hastened the departure of the American military naval fleet not only from the 262-square-miles Subic Naval Base but also the nearby the 4.3 square miles (37 km²) Clark Air base. What to do with these abandoned bases and the people directly and indirectly affected by the closure was a big dilemma for Philippine Authorities.

The answer came with the enactment of Republic Act 7227 (Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992), signed into law by former President Corazon C. Aquino on March 13, 1992. The law provided for the creation of the Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) mandated to transform the former US military bases into alternative productive civilian use.

Some may rue the day the Americans were booted out of Subic and Clark in the light of the growing assertiveness of China in West Philippine Sea, but one thing is patently clear. The Bases Conversion and Development Act of 1992, amended in 1995, and further amended by RA 9400 in 2007, has proven to be a wise decision by the government. Since its inception in 1992, the BCDA has generated 1992 billions in disposition proceeds from the sale, lease and/or joint venture development of former Metro Manila camps, the biggest recipient of which is the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Aside from Bonifacio Global City and Newport City, home of Fort Bonifacio and Villamor Air Base respectively, the BCDA also maintains other areas including Clark Freeport Zone in Tarlac, Clark Tourism and Business Complex, Pampanga, John Hay Special Economic Zone, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, among others. During his term the BCDA finished the SCTEX, a 93-kilometer road stretching from

Under the current leadership, the BCDA has revved up its development initiatives and programs. An expert in, among others, public private partnership, urban planning infrastructure and real estate, Atty. Arnel Casanova, as president and CEO of BCDA, has steered the agency to new heights of excellence.  Having taught Arnel at the University of the Philippines College of Law and, after his return from the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University, having hired him to be a lead professor on social entrepreneurship in the Ateneo School of Government, I am proud of Arnel’s exemplary leadership of BCDA in the last five years.

One innovative initiative taken by BCDA is the launching of the 35,000-hectare Sacobia otherwise dubbed as Clark Green City located at the Clark Special Economic Zone. The Clark Green City is a mix of industrial, institutional and commercial areas, which would apply green technologies in all facilities and buildings such as renewable energy from sustaining sources. The planned new metropolis is envisaged as a smart-intelligent city utilizing green building methods and state-of-the-art IT infrastructure.

`With an ambitious project on his hands, Atty. Casanova’s leadership skills will be sorely tested. But I am sure he is up to the task. A recipient of various awards, Atty. Casanova also held responsible positions in a number of local and international institutions. That he is familiar with the ins and outs of the BDCA operations and programs is a given having been a part of the agency from the very onset.

Atty. Casanova has also proved that he is a man of integrity and great courage. He does not shirk from any challenge to uphold what he believes is right. For example, without fear, he ordered the eviction of the powerful Camp John Hay Development Corp. (CJHDEVco), the long-time developer of the former American base. A decision which was upheld by the Baguio Regional Trial Court (RTC) which ordered the Sobrepeña-led Camp John Hay Development Corporation (CJHDevCo) to vacate the Camp John Hay. CJHDevCo was also ordered to deliver the leased property as well as all new constructions and permanent improvements in tenantable condition to the state-owned Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA). The dispute emanated when it was discovered that CJHDevCo illegally sublet to the investors’ cabins, condo units and golf shares for 50 straight years when the BCDA actual sub-leases were good for only 25 years.

With this gargantuan responsibility, Atty. Casanova will face many more challenges ahead. But learning from life’s experiences, he can and will rise to the challenge. Not many know that Arnel comes from a poor family and worked his way up to become the top honcho of BCDA by dabbling in all sorts of odd jobs as an ice cream vendor and crew of a food chain. Poverty did not deter him to achieve his life’s goals. When he talks about his life journey, especially before the Overseas Filipino Workers’ leadership and social entrepreneurship classes teaches for us, Arnel never fails to move and inspire our students.

A humble and hardworking man, Arnel Casanova has shown us that true grit and determination can overcome all sorts of adversities. With his vision and character we can safely say that we have in him a good steward of the bases land, part of our national patrimony.

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